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  • Writer's pictureFred Kelly

This is What Separates Success and Failure in every Credit Union

Updated: Mar 21, 2021

You sit down at your desk on Monday morning, cup of coffee in your hand. It’s early. You try to plan your day, your week ahead. You know it won't be long before everyone starts to arrive and the bustle of the day begins. Once that happens, you will be inevitably swept up in the flow of the office, like the current of a receding tide.

One of the biggest challenges we have in a credit union is to make sense of a business day. What are the currents that send us one way, then another? Are they subject to some mysterious laws of nature or can we shape and bend them according to our will?

Just as the world is subject to the laws of nature, so are businesses subject to their own invisible laws. They are the four Ps.

The four Ps are behind the successes and failures that every credit union, big or small, experiences. Just as we can suspend, but cannot defy gravity, we cannot permanently defy the physics of success.

If we want to direct our credit union rather than be carried along by the random nature of some unseen force, we must learn to understand and master these currents.

The 4 Ps

At work, we spend most of our time doing. However, do you ever wonder, when you are in the middle of something, why you are doing it? To what end? Does it all fit into some master plan or is it just a series of semi-related tasks that will somehow contribute to a flourishing credit union.

I have found that the best way to answer these questions is through the 4 Ps framework. Not only does it help us make sense of what we are doing but it helps us devise and focus on the tasks that directly contribute to our success as an organization.

The 4 Ps are:

  1. Process

  2. People

  3. Product

  4. Purpose

A Framework for Success

The first three, process, people and product were popularized by multibillion-dollar business owner Marcus Lemonis on the CNBC show The Profit, but the concept is much older. There is also a fourth that he doesn’t mention - purpose.


The most important of the 4 Ps is process. You might be wondering why I haven’t put people first. Admittedly, it’s a bit chicken and egg but great people are recruited by great hiring processes. We’ll come to this in a moment, but if there was one process that should be optimized it’s the hiring process. Great people are hard to find. Most companies, under the pressure of some pressing need, recruit people they shouldn’t.

So why are processes so important that I have felt the need to elevate them above people?

Well, whatever goal you have set for your credit union or your personal life, it’s the process that gets you there.

Goals and objectives are great for setting the ambition and direction, but without processes you are overreliant on favorable tides

Here are some benefits of embracing process as a vehicle to your goals:

  • Most things worth doing don’t give you instant results. That’s why most people give up. If you are following a proven process you will keep going in the knowledge that you will get results in the end. By mapping out and breaking down a process, you and your team can also celebrate the small wins along the way

  • In business, just like in life, things go wrong. A process allows you to pinpoint where something has failed. This means you can fix it more quickly rather than trying to pin the tail on the donkey

  • A process allows you to measure the key steps that add value and, through a process of continuous improvement, create a virtuous feedback loop that gives your credit union an enduring competitive advantage

  • A process ensures everybody is on the same page. When everyone is rowing in the same direction in synchronicity it’s a wonderful feeling both for your staff and your members

  • Have you ever dealt with a business whose service level depended on the day of the week, the location or the person that served you? It’s very hard to ensure your members have a consistent experience without effective processes that everybody understands and believes in

  • Whether you are baking a cake or opening a new branch, having a process will give you consistent results. As long as you follow the same recipe your cake will turn out the same every time. Of course, you can experiment and vary the recipe to try different flavors. That’s how innovation happens. Obviously, it’s safer to innovate on a cake just you and your family will try rather than your brother-in-law’s wedding cake

Process Design

Just like everything else in your business, processes need to be properly designed, implemented and maintained. Yes there’s a process for designing processes! This is what tends to happen when process design is unstructured:

  • The process is biased towards the designer’s perspective. Departments tend to want processes that work best for them. That means they may not work so well for other parts of the business and, most critically, the customer

  • The users of the process may get left out of the design process and be presented with the final product. As the Field Marshal Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke quote goes, “No plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy's main strength" or in plain English “No plan survives contact with the enemy”. A way to avoid this, is to make sure you invite end users and use an interactive design approach

  • In addition, staff who have to use the process every day, key stakeholders may put the kibosh on the process because they haven’t bought into it

  • The process may get introduced without sufficient training meaning that the process isn't followed correctly

Either the process is wrong or the process wasn't followed


The hardest part of any business is finding great people. Humans are complex and difficult to scale. That’s what gave rise to the industrial revolution and now the quest for Artificial Intelligence.

Humans are also an incredible source of competitive advantage. Yet so many companies leave it up to chance. This normally happens for two reasons:

  • The recruitment process is poorly defined

  • The need is urgent which compresses the hiring process (for budgeting reasons, many companies hire as the need arises rather than hiring ahead of the need)

An amazing team needs an amazing recruitment process


Many organizations have a new product approval process. Fewer have a new product creation process. Successful products require that these two components occur in tandem as part of a single iterative process.

Creating new products is not that difficult. The challenging part is creating products that people want!

Since the emergence of the start up pop culture, there has been a huge amount published on the process of product development. Perhaps the best known is Eric Reis’s book The Lean Start Up, or you can follow a condensed process in this article How Credit Unions Can Innovate Like Start Ups Without Writing a Single Line of Code.

The shorter version still is that product development is an iterative process in which you want to get the most basic version of your idea in front of your target audience as quickly as possible so that you can continually improve the versions of your product. One way of doing this is the storyboard process, used to great success by Pixar Animation Studios (the creators of Toy Story), in which users go those the steps involves in using your product.


Purpose is mentioned less often in the context of the essential components of a business, but it is purpose that drives the motor. A company without purpose is like a ship without a rudder. It will move but in no coherent direction.

When times get tough, as we all know they do in business as in life, it is purpose that gets us out of bed to face the morning sleet. Understanding your credit union’s essential purpose also acts as a filter to all the distractions that threaten to take you off track.

Final Thoughts

The majority of businesses exist without all four of these components, but at some point they reach a plateau or start to decline. It may be that they lose their shape because of poor processes, or that they are constrained by management bandwidth because they haven’t been able to recruit amazing people, or that their portfolio of products becomes outdated by a lack of innovation or just that nobody really knows why the company exists beyond generating income.

Most things in life are easier to make sense of if you have a framework, a mental model or a system that sets boundaries and acts as a guide for your decisions. The 4Ps are a great place to start.

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How Credit Unions Can Innovate Like Start Ups Without Writing a Single Line of Code

3 Ways Credit Unions Can Flourish in the Age of FinTech Disruption

21 Ways Credit Unions Can Connect with Members

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